Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) Types, Application, Pros & Cons


A Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) is a certification for certified public accountants (CPAs), allowing them to expand their expertise to include financial planning and wealth management. This credential, established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), demands a CPA qualification as a prerequisite. Achieving the PFS designation involves educational, professional, and examination requirements, broadening career opportunities in various sectors, from accounting firms to running a wealth management practice.

Understanding a personal financial specialist (PFS)

A personal financial specialist (PFS) certification is exclusively granted to CPAs. According to the AICPA, a PFS certification represents “a powerful combination of extensive tax expertise comprehensive knowledge of financial planning.”

Personal financial specialist (PFS) requirements

There are four major requirements to achieve a personal financial specialist designation:

CPA license and AICPA member

Candidates must possess an unrevoked and valid CPA certification issued by a state and be a current regular member of the AICPA.

Education and experience requirements

The standard and certificate pathways have specific requirements, including business experience in personal financial planning, tax compliance hours, and personal financial planning education. The experienced pathway entails five years of full-time experience in personal financial planning and extensive education hours.

PFP body of knowledge

The 12 areas of the personal financial planning (PFP) body of knowledge cover topics ranging from estate planning to education planning, which form the educational and experiential base for PFS designation.

Personal financial specialist (PFS) exam

The PFS exam is comprehensive, covering topics such as the financial planning process, professional responsibilities, tax, retirement, investments, insurance, and estate planning. It includes standalone multiple-choice questions and case studies.

Benefits of a personal financial specialist (PFS)

Professionals holding a PFS certification can showcase their expertise, attract clients, and elevate their professional reputation by offering a holistic approach to financial planning coupled with in-depth tax and corporate finance expertise.


While PFS and certified financial planner (CFP) certifications share similarities, they also have distinct differences. PFS emphasizes financial planning blended with tax and corporate finance expertise, while a CFP leans more towards financial advisory roles with strict ethical codes.

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.

  • Enhanced career prospects in various financial sectors.
  • Opportunity to broaden services to include financial planning and wealth management.
  • Showcases a comprehensive blend of financial planning and tax expertise.
  • Improved professional standing and potential for increased income.
  • Rigorous requirements involving education, experience, and examination.
  • Exclusively available to CPAs, limiting accessibility to other financial professionals.
  • May require significant commitment in time and effort to meet the stringent criteria.

Frequently asked questions

Who is eligible to pursue a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) certification?

The PFS certification is exclusively available for Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) who meet specific educational, professional, and examination criteria outlined by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

What distinguishes a PFS from a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)?

While both certifications cover financial planning, a PFS focuses on the expertise of CPAs in financial planning, coupled with tax and corporate finance proficiency, whereas a CFP primarily concentrates on financial advisory roles.

How can a PFS benefit my financial planning goals?

Professionals holding a PFS can offer a comprehensive financial strategy infused with tax and corporate finance expertise, tailoring plans aligned with clients’ long-term financial objectives.

Key takeaways

  • The PFS designation is exclusively available to CPAs, combining financial planning with tax expertise.
  • PFS involves rigorous requirements including education, experience, and an examination.
  • PFS enables professionals to offer a unique blend of financial planning and tax knowledge.
View article sources
  1. CPA PFS: Personal financial candidates’handbook – University of Mississippi
  2. Small Steps to Select a Financial Advisor – Rutgers, The State University
  3. Fixed vs. Variable Student Loan Rates – SuperMoney
  4. Financial Specialist – United States Department of the Interior